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Locals react to N. Korea situation

BY MICHAEL DALE-STEIN | JUNE 09, 2009 7:26 AM

Some UI students and faculty are keeping close tabs on the plight of two U.S. journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea.

“It’s a continued attempt to provoke the U.S.,” said Brian Lai, a UI associate professor of political science. “You’ll probably see the release of these two individuals.”

Laura Ling and Euna Lee — two television reporters working for San Francisco-based Current TV — were detained in March for allegedly trespassing on North Korean territory. They were also convicted of an undefined “grave crime.”

Lai said the North Korean court decision is among a variety of problems involving the country’s relations with the United States.

North Korea launched its second nuclear test on May 25, sparking condemnation from many countries. Since then, the United Nations has considered imposing new sanctions backed by the United States.

But Lai said North Korea has something to gain from stirring the most recent controversy. Aside from flexing its military strength and challenging the American government, detaining the journalists could spark discourse between North Korea and the Obama administration.

“What the North Koreans want is the United States to start negotiations,” Lai said. “A high-level meeting is what they ultimately want.”

UI graduate student Hyeon Seok Park, a political-science graduate student, said a new regime might be seeking political support in North Korea. Leader Kim Jong Il’s third son, Kim Jong Un, is reported as the successor to the regime.

“[Kim Jong Un] does not have a very strong political base in North Korea,” Park said.

News of the journalists’ verdict quickly reached American media on Monday. Families of the two U.S. reporters have asked the North Korean government to grant clemency.

U.S. top officials quickly responded.

“We are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release,” said William Burton, deputy spokesman for the White House said in a news release.

While some UI students are unaware of the situation, others are mindful — and concerned.

“We don’t have a very good relationship with North Korea,” said Park, who grew up in South Korea. A 2007 election in his native country led to more strained relations with the reclusive nation.

“It’s horrible for their families, especially not knowing what’s going to happen to them,” said UI junior Raquel Case, a political-science major.


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